Federal auditor Colmenares. Federal auditor Colmenares.

Irregularities in Veracruz spending were ‘atrocious,’ federal auditor says

And the punishment handed down to the ex-governor was inadequate

Spending irregularities in Veracruz during the administration of former governor Javier Duarte were “atrocious,” according to Mexico’s chief auditor, but just as bad is that no one has really paid the price.

Speaking at a government forum yesterday, the head of the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF), David Colmenares, contended that the punishment imposed on the ex-governor was inadequate.

He was also critical of the process for selecting state auditors, claiming that criminal charges never follow state audits.

Duarte, who was in office between 2010 and 2016, was sentenced in September to nine years in prison for money laundering and criminal association but will be eligible to seek parole in just over three years.

He is estimated to have embezzled billions of pesos during his term but a federal judge imposed a fine of just 58,890 pesos (US $2,875), although he also ordered the seizure of 41 properties.

“Veracruz, evidently, was an atrocious case but the astonishing thing is that the penalties really didn’t materialize in the way we wanted,” Colmenares said.

The chief auditor argued that the work of the ASF is useless if those responsible for embezzlement and other spending irregularities are not held accountable.

Nevertheless, Colmenares said that in collaboration with the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR), auditors would continue to investigate Veracruz’s public accounts and anticipated that new criminal charges could follow in the coming months.

“We’ve already established a working group with the PGR to start looking at the matters that are still outstanding . . . we’re not going to give up. We really have no fear, the level of the people we’re looking at doesn’t matter, we’ll continue with the criminal complaints,” he said.

The ASF chief was also critical of auditors’ offices at the state level, charging that their officials never report irregularities that result in state government personnel being charged with embezzlement.

“State auditors do their work but never, never have they produced a result that brought a criminal complaint . . .” Colmenares said.

That, he said, is because auditors are appointed by the government of the day in the state in which they operate.

“. . . The affiliation is very clear and that has happened with [political parties] of all stripes,” Colmenares said.

“I haven’t seen a single case in which a state auditor’s office makes a strong case against a state government,” he added, pointing out that municipal governments are not afforded the same protection.

Emilio Barriga Delgado, a federal expenditure auditor who appeared alongside Colmenares yesterday, urged federal and state lawmakers to ensure that auditors’ offices – which in theory are independent of government – are able to conduct their work without political interference.

“. . . If we don’t have autonomy . . . what’s the point of being independent. . .” he asked.

Source: Reforma (sp)

Reader forum